Price Check: How Companies Value Body Parts
Laws in Texas and Oklahoma allow companies to opt out of workers’ comp laws and write their own plans for injured workers. Some of the biggest names in corporate America are pushing to pass opt-out laws nationwide, with Tennessee and South Carolina already considering bills. ProPublica and NPR obtained more than 100 of these plans to see how they compare to workers’ comp.
Injured workers are entitled to compensation for permanent disabilities under state workers’ comp laws. But Texas has long allowed companies to opt out and write their own benefit plans. Benefits for the same body part can differ dramatically depending on which company you work for.
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NOTES: The chart displays the maximum benefit. A major difference between opt-out plans and state workers’ comp laws is that under opt-out, compensation is only guaranteed for amputations and total loss of use. In contrast, injured employees under workers’ comp can get benefits for partial injuries.
In addition, under opt-out, compensation for various body parts might be subtracted from any wage and medical benefits a worker has already received. Under workers’ comp, it’s usually an additional benefit. Injured workers with opt-out plans can seek additional benefits by suing for negligence or through arbitration.
Another major difference is that wage benefits under opt-out are generally subject to income and payroll taxes while workers’ comp benefits are not taxable.
In Texas, opt-out plans are not public. ProPublica and NPR were able to obtain company plans from certain years, many of which are still currently being used. But a company can update or modify a plan at any time without informing the state. They can also opt back in to workers’ comp at any time.
Compensation for the loss of certain body parts is only one part of a larger system. States and companies may be more or less generous in other aspects of their work injury benefits.
Contributors: Courtney Mabeus and Howard Berkes from NPR and Cynthia Cotts and Marcelo Rochabrun from ProPublica. Additional design and development by Sisi Wei. Clipboard illustration by Justin Volz for ProPublica.